ASK

April 6, 2015

It’s one of the great pop songs. And since hearing it, it’s one I’ve always tried to take to heart. Yes, shyness is nice and (more often than not) the antonym is hideous. So, it’s always worth an ask.  “Ask me, I won’t say no, how could I?”

Years back, last century, when I worked with Trev Neal on Saturday morning TV, we’d get to perform daft sketches with the stars of the day (Big Fun, Craig Machlachlanchlachlan, Nathan from Brother Beyond) and sometimes the stars of many days (Kylie, Cher, Mel Brooks). When it came to the Christmas and New Year shows there was always an attempt by our boss, Chris Bellinger, to up the ante, to aim high, to get the big guns in. And we would always ask for the top bananas. Year after year, for ten years, we’d hand in our wish list. Always the same names. And always, at the top of our list, the same two. We never did get Eddie Murphy or Gorbachev. But the point is, ASK! Always ask.

During one series of Live and Kicking we had a weekly feature called Every Loony Wins*. It was a daft phone-in quiz and we had a band as part of it, all played by kids from the audience. The leader of the band was called Des Tindeby (The Des Tindeby Band). And during their musical performance (miming to the very real Spike Jones and his City Slickers) a character would jump on stage (again one of the kids) as The Lone Yodeller (a Lone Ranger type, in a mask, yodelling like a loony). And each week we would end the segment by looking into the camera and saying; “Just who is the Lone Yodeller?”

When we reached the end of the thirty week run it was time for us to reveal just who was the Lone Yodeller. The obvious way to do this was for it to be one of the guests of the week. The only problem was (me and Trev being a picky pair) none of the guests were up to the task. (Anyone remember Little Danny Mangrove? or Nu Boxxx? Or Jennifer Bush?** No, I thought not.) And so we went to Chris… and we asked… we begged… please, please, can we get another guest. One worthy of the title of The Lone Yodeller? Chris wanted it to be Little Danny Mangrove. Little Danny, who was actually 6’2″, had just won Pop Zinger on ITV and his record company, BIGPUSH, were desperate for him to be the Lone Yodeller. They’d even recorded a special yodelling version of his current hit, A Pocketful of Promises, for him to mime to. We couldn’t have it though. We insisted; the Lone Yodeller had to be a bigger name. And then we asked Chris this; “if we can get a big name to play along will you let them be the Lone Yodeller?” This, of course, depended on who the big name was. We said to Chris; “if we can get Jonathan Ross to be the Lone Yodeller will you let him do it?” And Chris said yes.

Just one snag. We didn’t know Jonathan Ross. Not really. He’d been a guest before on the programme, but it’s not like we played tennis with him or anything. It’s not like we’d been to his house, or had his telephone number. All we had, on our side, was the ability to ASK.

It’s time to get to the races now so… we asked… we found a phone number for his production company and we asked… and they said “we’ll ask”… and we waited. And he said YES!

Jonathan turned up on the Saturday morning, played the Lone Yodeller and also brought along a friend of his who went on to declare “No! I’m the Lone Yodeller!” Our second Lone Yodeller wore a shoe hat, made from two shoes and a coat hanger. That was was Vic Reeves.

Ask.

We’ve been asking again recently. We are working on a new thing. A Sci-Fi audio comedy adventure with me, Trev, and Sophie Aldred. Some of you reading this will already know about Strangeness in Space. ***

And we’ve been asking people to help us out with it. We’ve given up on Eddie Murphy and Gorbachev, but we have asked two top people who have only gone ahead and said YES!

YES! Doon Mackichan has said yes to being our narrator, Bounty Flightingale.

YES! Rufus Hound has said yes to being Atrocious Knocious, an alien hoverbiker who’s never even heard of Evel knievel!

All from asking.

* based on Nick Berry’s hit Every Loser Wins. We had a minor battle with some BBC bigwigs to get them to accept the use of the word Loony. I’d grown up with it, reading the works of Spike Milligan. It was accepted in the end when dictionary definitions, on the whole, gave the word two meanings; one meaning (and our one) was silly, the other mad.

** Ok, I’ve made all these acts up. And the ongoing business with Little Danny Mangrove. Other than that, this story is true.

*** A final ask. Please help us get this made. We’ve loads of perks available if you join us: T-shirts, badges, scripts, signed photos and artwork, etc. We’re not far off our target now, but the more money we raise, the more episodes we can make. You can back us here.

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Movember

November 2, 2012

I’m growing a moustache throughout November for Movember.

Movember “is responsible for the sprouting of moustaches on thousands of men’s faces in the UK and around the world. The aim of which is to raise vital funds and awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and testicular cancer.” That’s what the Movember people say. That’s why were doing it. There’s a lot of us. I don’t know how many. But currently, and with £37 donated, I am ranked 10513.

“It’s not a competition”, my friend Andrea pointed out. She’s right. Except it sort of is. For me. The competitive element is what will lead me to bully and pester you over the next few weeks. I want to raise a massive amount of money for Prostrate Cancer UK.

And I want to do that by growing a moustache.

Some people take the easy way out when it comes to raising money for charity; running marathons, trekking across deserts and mountains, swimming oceans.

That’s not for me. I needed a challenge.

Zoe, my wife, put me up to it. I’m claiming she made me do it, encouraged me, suggested it. Truth is, all she said was “are you doing Movember this year?”

After two seconds thought I came to the conclusion, why not? It’s not like I’ve got anything else on.

And so I’m growing a moustache.

It won’t be easy. I’m 50 and I’ve never been able to grow one yet. I wanted to cheat; to start the month off with the feeble follicles I try to pass off as designer stubble. I’m more Elvis Costello than George Michael. But then I’m more George Dawes than Elvis Costello. I can’t really grow hair anymore. Not even (for the sake of some second rate comedy observation) in my ears or up my nose.

So yes, cheat. Get a few days head start. It is, after all, not a competition.

But cheating’s not allowed. It’s in the rules. (See Andrea! Rules! Rankings! This must be a competition).

And so yesterday I shaved, maybe taking a little less care when it came to the bit under my nose.

I’ve always wanted to have a beard, a moustache, even hair on my head. Once I looked like this (those concerned with the aging process look away now).

Like a happy, hip, Heseltine. Like Tarzan.

Like bloody Havers.

Now, I look more like this.

Trev always was the lucky one. He’s kept his hair. And his looks. And his height.

Trev takes the best of Bradley Wiggins and the best of Paul Weller and cycles around Broadstairs, grinning broadly whilst singing The Boy about Town. That’s the man’s style.

When we played characters on Going Live! and Live and Kicking we’d write the scripts on a Tuesday and a Wednesday. We think up all sort of arrangements of facial hair; moustaches, beards, pony tails… you name it. On Friday I’d go into make-up in the morning to try out a few styles. Trev would stroll in towards the end of the day with a full beard, a moustache, a pony tail… what have you. ALL GROWN! BY HIMSELF! ON THURSDAY. HIS OWN HAIR! A BEARD! A MOUSTACHE! A PONY TAIL! WEEK AFTER WEEK AFTER BLOODY WEEK!

HE’D SHAVE EVERYTHING OFF AFTER THE SHOW. BALD AS A BABY BABOON. AND THEN, COME NEXT SATURDAY, HE’D HAVE GROWN A NEW HAIR ENSEMBLE! BEARD! MOUSTACHE! PONY TAIL! EYEBROWS!

THAT’S WHAT I HAD TO PUT UP WITH. WEEK AFTER WEEK. FOR 10 YEARS!

HE EVEN ONCE GREW HIS OWN DOWNSTAIRS HAIR. NOT FOR A SKETCH; THE BBC BOSSES WOULDN’T ALLOW THAT. NO! HE DID IT JUST TO SHOW OFF. BECAUSE HE COULD. FLOUNCING HIS CURLING LOCKS OUT OF THE BOTTOM OF HIS TROUSERS! SWANNING AROUND THE STUDIO SINGING “SWING YOUR PANTS”.

So.

I don’t take this challenge lightly.

It’s for a good cause.

If you can give, please give. You can do that here.

Here we are in one of my favourite moustache sketches. Mine glued on, Trev’s home grown.

No. Not Don Draper the smooth Mad Man. Before that Don Draper there was another Don Draper. Don Draper the dry cleaner, who, along with his brother Dougie, ran Draper’s Dry Cleaners on BBC1’s Saturday morning show Live and Kicking. I was Dougie and Trev Neal was Don. Trev has gone on to star as Don Draper in Mad Men, whereas I just roam the streets of Hither Green hoping to see a burnt out dry cleaning machine.

And today I saw one! There must have been an accident at the dry cleaners. Look at the state of this? That’s the thing with dry cleaning; it’s a sophisticated art involving chemicals and gases; nitrogen, plutonium, Agent Orange. That’s why it’s so costly to get a garment cleaned with seeminlgy no wetness whatsoever.

dry-cleaners

This sight would have made Don and Dougie weep. They loved their dry cleaning machine. They even had a name for it; Queenie, after their old mother. Queenie ended up blowing up as well. I went to YouTube to look for the last ever dry cleaners sketch, where we rebuilt the dry cleaning shop outside and blew it up for real. But I can’t find it. I did find this though, and having no memory of it from when we did it, found myself enjoying it very much. That may sound a little egotistical, and no doubt it is. But I never used to watch our stuff. I couldn’t bear watching myself. Now I can, because it is as if it’s not me.

And as for the star of the sketch? Well, Macho Man Randy Savage will be 57 now. I wonder if he ever scoots through YouTube looking for his old Live and Kicking performance? I’m not going to say anything rude about being “an old broken down piece of meat” because if that can be applied to anyone it’s most likely me. And I don’t want Randy knocking on my door declaiming “you guys are outta Liiiiiiine!”

And does Michael Nyman ever pass his time in such a way? Wondering how many kids TV shows used the soundtrack to The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover as an intro? Most likely not.

This sketch was called Sofa for Two with Three. It was thought up by a good friend of ours called Paul Brophy who worked with us for a few years, writing and coming up with ideas. You’ll have seen him on Live and Kicking if you watched, but in a very bizarre disguise. That’s because he was at the cutting edge of technology at the time, giving life to a floating computerised cat head called Ratz! Here he is introducing the very first Live and Kicking back in 1993.

Murderer

January 30, 2009

I’ve met a murderer. At the time I didn’t know this. I was with Trev Neal and Cyndi Lauper, and looking back we were all lucky to escape with our lives. This may sound like some kind of fantasy, but it is all true.

I’m a big fan of the only reality TV show worth watching; Coronation Street. Watching the antics of those Northern folks keeps me in touch with my roots. When people ask me if I really think Coronation Street is real, I say “I believe it to be real.” You try using reason and logic in the face of belief; you’ll get nowhere.

Another hobby of mine other than watching Coronation Street is to scour YouTube for old clips of me and Trev. It passes the time, and it also fools me into thinking I’m working and it’s the 20th Century. A week ago, someone put this on You Tube. It’s the Video Grand Prix; a segment of Live and Kicking where the two of us and a couple of guests would fool around while supposedly reviewing the new pop songs of the week. I enjoyed the first minute or so and then I froze in horror. Our second guest was an actor called Gray O’Brien. He was in Casualty. But not anymore.

At some point Gray O’Brien packed in acting and decided to buy a knicker factory in Coronation Street. A knicker factory called Underworld. He even changed his name. He’s now called Tony Gordon. And he kills people. He killed Liam O’Connor. People who watch Coronation Street know this. And yet the police have done nothing. We’ve seen Maria try to unmask him, but now everyone just thinks she’s nuts. She thought he’d killed Jed Stone, but Tony brought Jed back to Coronation Street to prove that he was alive. But Tony’s sneaky, and anyone who watches too much TV will know that Jed Stone, years back, was Hopkirk in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). Yes, deceased! If he could appear on TV as Hopkirk (deceased) why can’t he appear on Coronation Street as Jed Stone (deceased).

We we’re nearly murdered. Along with Cyndi Lauper. It’s a fact. Look at those black eyes in the YouTube clip. How did we get those? Tony Gordon had murder in his mind years before he became a knicker king.

I rest my case. And my brain.

tony-jordan5

Not a lot

January 25, 2009

look-sign

I’ve been quiet on the blog scene for the last few days. I’ve been thrown into a state of confusion by the appearance of the Paul Daniels blog. When Paul Daniels starts a blog it is time for me to pause and ask “why am I doing it?” I’ve paused and I haven’t come up with an answer. So, for now, I’ll carry on.

It’s The Guardian’s fault. Last week they made me mad by telling me I had to read 1000 books of their choosing. Well, I’m not going to. And now they mess with my mind by pointing out Paul’s blog.  Paul is in Barbados, bumping into Russ Abbott and Cilla Black and Stuart Hall. I couldn’t look back from this point. I never knew Barbados was such a weird place. It’s like a lost episode of Lost– you crash land in paradise and are met by a group of varieticians. That isn’t a word, but I’d like it to be. Cilla Black fixes you up with Stuart Hall who dresses you up in a polar bear outfit and makes you run around obstacles then Paul Daniels makes you disappear and Russ Abbott turns up as Barratt Holmes and tries to solve the whole puzzle. Then there’s a writers’ strike, but blogger Paul takes over and writes a happy ending where they all go to a charity golf dinner where the Moody Blues are playing. This last part is true. As someone might say… only in Barbados.

In one of Paul’s posts he jumps to the defence of Nazi-dressing idiot Prince Harry over his “paki” remark. Paul points out that “paki” is just an abbreviation of Pakistani, and that he wouldn’t be offended if someone called him a “Brit”. Well, it’s a sort of an argument. But I’m sure Paul Daniels is an intelligent man and I’m sure he is only too aware of how our language shifts and reshapes. Sometimes the meaning of a word is not what that word means. I bet he’s being willfully disingenuous. Next he’ll be telling us he’s got lots of gay friends, and then insisting he means cheerful.

Oh, and when I call Prince Harry an idiot, he should take that as a compliment.

I’ve met Paul Daniels twice. The first time was on Going Live! or Live and Kicking, I can’t remember which. I stood about two feet away from him in BBC TV Centre’s Studio 7 whilst, off camera, and for my own amazement and entertainment, he did some close-up magic with a pack of cards. I liked it. A lot.

The second time was in a Liverpool Hotel’s breakfast bar. I was with my double-act other half, Trev; we were going to be on This Morning with Richard and Judy later (possibly the appearance where I jumped off the weather map with Fred but failed to make it to Ireland, bailing out into the Irish Sea). Paul was there because the QE2 was in town and he was entertaining on it. He came down to breakfast with his wife Debbie, and a big pair of binoculars. He strolled over, said hello, and showed us his binoculars. It’s that odd celebrity thing where you don’t know people but there seems to be some kind of “we’re all in this together” attitude, and anyhows, it’s nice if people say hello. He told us how much his binoculars were, where he’d got them from… I think he came over with the attitude that all men like binoculars, and I think he’s likely to be right. He could have brought a torch over, or a drill, or a compass and we’d have happily looked. He spoke so quietly we had no choice but to stare right into his face; half hearing, half lip-reading. I think this may be the secret of magic. Get your (there’ll be a special word for this, but I don’t know it)… get your… victim? Mug?… to look exactly where you want them to look. Then do your magic. And sure enough, when Paul left, our wallets had gone. Only joking Paul.

Paul Daniels is like a short Bing Crosby. I say that having no clue how short Paul is and having no clue how tall Bing is. So, let’s try again. Paul Daniels is like Bing Crosby. He’s got the same look, the same ears. I’d like to see Paul with a pipe. I’d like to see Peter Morgan, writer of Frost/Nixon and other true-life adventures, write a film called Being Bing. Paul Daniels would play Bing; there’d be the golf, the crooning, the pipe smoking, and the darker corners of Bing’s life where he was perhaps not the greatest parent. Paul would make a great Bing, and towards the end of the story he would be joined by Michael Sheen as David Bowie (the Jean Genie) for a moving rendition of Little Drummer Boy.